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One year, $1 bn needed to destroy chemical arms: Assad

AFP
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Insists Syria is a victim of terrorism and is not gripped by civil war

PHOTO: Reuters
PHOTO: Reuters

Defiant strongman Bashar Al-Assad promised on Wednesday he would surrender Syria’s chemical weapons but warned it would take at least a year to do so and cost one billion dollars.

His latest appearance came as UN envoys debated a draft resolution that would enshrine a joint U.S.-Russian plan to secure and neutralize his banned weapons in international law. In a confident interview with U.S. network Fox News, Assad insisted that Syria was not gripped by civil war but was the victim of infiltration by foreign-backed Al-Qaeda fighters.

He insisted that his forces had not been behind an August 21 gas attack on the Damascus suburbs that left hundreds of civilians dead, but vowed nevertheless to hand over his deadly arsenal.

It was Assad’s second interview this month with U.S. television, and one of a series of meetings with Western journalists to counter mounting political pressure from Western capitals. Assad reiterated his pledge to cooperate, but insisted he had not been forced to do so by U.S. threats of U.S. action.

“I think it’s a very complicated operation, technically. And it needs a lot of money, about a billion,” he told Fox. “So it depends, you have to ask the experts what they mean by quickly. It has a certain schedule. It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more.”

Victim of terrorism

Asked why he had used force to repress a popular uprising and triggered a two-and-a-half year war that has claimed 110,000 lives, Assad insisted Syria was a victim of terrorism.

“What we have is not civil war. What we have is war. It’s a new kind of war,” he said, alleging that Islamist guerrillas from more than 80 countries had joined the fight.

“We know that we have tens of thousands of jihadists... ” he said, disputing an expert report that suggested 30,000 out of around 100,000 rebels were hardliners. “What I can tell you is that ... 80 to 90 percent of the underground terrorists are Al-Qaeda and their offshoots.”

Assad admitted that at the start of the uprising there were non-jihadist rebels, but alleged that since the end of 2012, Islamic extremists had become a majority.

He added that “tens of thousands of Syrians” and 15,000 government troops had been killed “mainly because of the terrorist attacks, assassinations and suicide bombers.”AFP


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